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I am new to the forum and posting because I have searched everywhere but just can't find a case that matches what I'm experiencing.
First, let me state that I grew up with dogs and feel confident in my ability to train and work with them. I enjoy a well-behaved dog that I can trust but also that people around me can trust.
I have a chocolate lab female pup. She is about 18 weeks and we have had her since 6 weeks. She is a great dog and is taking on training really well. I own a small print shop and plan for her to be a shop dog where willing customers can come and greet her. I have worked with her a lot on the standard commands and feel that I've done well socializing her both on walks and in the shop. It has been kind of hard right now with COVID, but I feel like I have done well with getting her to see and meet strangers on a regular basis.
As she has gotten older she has taken on a tendency to bark and growl at strangers. Her hair will stand up and she will growl and bark but you can tell she wants to meet them just feels a bit intimidated by them or unsure is maybe a better term. I think it is fear based as I see no signs at all of aggression in her. But as she has gotten older, her bark has grown and I can see it starting to surprise folks. I feel that I am definitely the leader and so there is no need for her to feel like she needs to protect me. The biggest thing that stumps me is that I can't see any sort of rhyme, reason, or consistent factor for it and it's making it hard to anticipate and address. Man, woman, young, old, facial, hair, mask or no mask. Once she has met the person if she meets them again in a week or so she is perfectly fine with them and excited to see them again. Since we have had her since 6 weeks I can't point to any sort of abuse or mistreatment triggering it, at least as far as I'm aware.
What also surprises me is that we had her out on Halloween walking with my kids trick-or-treating. I was prepared for some opportunities to train as I thought for sure the noise, chaos, multitudes of people, costumes, etc. would trigger something, but she was perfectly behaved all night and un-phased by it.
We also had a recent trip to Colorado where we walked her down streets filled with noise and people. At the beginning of the walk she was a bit overwhelmed but quickly settled into what we were doing and was fine.
This morning I had her in the shop and a customer came in. He was a tall, slender, soft spoken gentleman. I asked if he was okay to say hi to her and he said he'd love to. She went around the counter after coming to see me and started her routine of barking, growling, and hair standing up. She wanted to see him, but on her terms so every time he would divert his attention to her she'd start up and move away from him. I was visiting with him while attempting to address her unwanted behavior to show her he was "ok". But it just wasn't working. Typically my finger snap and a "hey" from me will quickly submit her. But she wasn't giving in. (Just to be clear, I am asertive in my training but not physical. She submits to me but is not fearful of me as her owner.)
Later we went on a walk. Less than 5 minutes into the walk she saw a lady across the street and began her routine again. I stopped and addressed the unwanted behavior. We were interrupted by another walker we've met before and so her attention was diverted in that situation.
During the remainder of the walk we went by many people in many different situations, on purpose mind you as I am looking for opportunities to socialize her but also to debunk this behavior. She had no reactions to anyone. When we came back I came through the front door of the shop because I knew there was a patron/stranger in the store-front and I wanted to surprise her to see if she would react. She did not.
Later in the day another gentleman came in. She went around to see him with no reaction.
I just can't decode it and that's making it hard to address it. She has even been "surprised" by me out in our own yard when she's wandered off and I've come around the other side of the house or something. She barks and growls until she can smell me or hear my voice. She saw me in the mirror one day and started up.
I am afraid of dogs, I was bit several times when I was a kid from dogs that "never do that!" according to the owner. So I am VERY nervous when I meet new dogs, especially if they bark, growl, have hair standing up, etc. because I feel their behavior is unpredictable.
I don't want a dog that I feel is unpredictable also, especially if I want them to be a friendly shop dog with my customers. That's too much of a liability for my business, not to mention having kids at home that want to bring friends over, etc.
I feel like I am at a prime time to curb the behavior with her being a puppy, but I am stumped on how to do it.
Any help would be VERY much appreciated.
 

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Puppies can go through 'fear stages' as they grow, and your pup is about the right age for it to be happening for her. A 'fear stage' is when things that they were familiar and comfortable with suddenly become scary for them. It is important at this time to ensure that all interactions she has with people are on her terms, that she is choosing to approach and meet, (they could give her a treat) and have the freedom to move away from them, should she choose to. She needs your help in learning to perceive the scary ones differently - that can mean simply people watching and feeding her some yummy treats as they go by, even if they are across the street - in time she will make the association that strangers predict good things for her.

Just like us, dogs have 'good days' and 'not so good days', sometimes when we are trying to socialize our pups we can overwhelm them with too much at one time, causing them to become anxious/stressed, and making it more likely they will respond in a 'negative' way to some (her reaction is simply her way of saying 'I am not comfortable with what is going on right now' - respect it - don't 'correct' it. When we stifle (put a stop to) our dog's ability and willingness to show us how they are feeling -growling, barking, bristling - are 'warning' signals- used by dogs to maintain or create space from something they are afraid of, we run the risk of having a dog who doesn't 'warn', and then 'out of the blue' when they can no longer cope- they may end up snapping at or biting someone.

It is wonderful that you are making a good effort to socialize her with new people, but sometimes she may just need a break from it all - perhaps stay home and chill out?
 

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That makes sense. I don’t necessarily want to put a stop to the warning signs. In fact I welcome a bark letting me know someone has pulled into our driveway or warning me that someone is walking into my camp out in the hills. But I would like to have her warn me but then go into a calm, quiet state when I ask her to as well. I want to make sure I am in control of her state of mind for her and others safety.
 

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I thought fear period too, but I also wondered if you may have inadvertently sensitised her. There is an important difference between desensitisation (getting her accustomed to meeting lots of people) and sensitisation. Sensitisation is when the stimulus is repeated, but to the point of annoyance. Like a colleague who has a habit of clicking a pen - most days you can tolerate it or ignore it, but one day, maybe in an important meeting where everyone is pressured and maybe you have other stresses going on, you haven't slept and you have a headache, and he is click - click - clicking. You have had enough, so you lose it and take the pen from him and snap it. He can't believe what happened, he has always done that and you never reacted before.

That's possibly where your dog is at. She has tolerated all these people but over time, instead of desensitising her, you have inadvertently sensitised her so now she is reacting like you did with the pen.
 

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That makes sense. I don’t necessarily want to put a stop to the warning signs. In fact I welcome a bark letting me know someone has pulled into our driveway or warning me that someone is walking into my camp out in the hills. But I would like to have her warn me but then go into a calm, quiet state when I ask her to as well. I want to make sure I am in control of her state of mind for her and others safety.
I think you've missed @CachetheBC 's point.

She isn't warning you that there's someone there - she's warning the stranger not to come any closer. And then you tell her off with a finger snap and "hey." At this stage, you're setting her up to forego the warning signs (hackles up, barking, growling) and go straight for the air snap (warning bite) and bite.

Also, she isn't "submitting to you when you do the finger snap and "hey!" She's sending out appeasement signals because she knows you're angry/frustrated/irritated and trying to calm you down.

Similarly, I'm a bit concerned over your use of the term "leader". It's usually used alongside "pack", which leaves us with images of bullying dogs into submission á la Cesar Millan and the Dog Listener. A true leader is a parental role- mum or dad - a protector, a friend, a teacher.

Socialization doesn't mean meeting and greeting anyone and everyone you see - it means letting your dog get used to the sites, sounds, people and animals around them whilst listening to what she's trying to tell you.

What do you mean you've had her since 6 weeks? I'm a bit unclear on that. Have you had her for 6 weeks, or have you had her since she was 6 weeks old? 6 weeks is far too young to have left her mum and siblings and she would have missed out on a lot of vital early socialization.
 

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That makes sense. I don’t necessarily want to put a stop to the warning signs. In fact I welcome a bark letting me know someone has pulled into our driveway or warning me that someone is walking into my camp out in the hills. But I would like to have her warn me but then go into a calm, quiet state when I ask her to as well. I want to make sure I am in control of her state of mind for her and others safety.
I understand what you are saying, you want a dog who alerts you when someone is there, which is fine, and most adult dogs will do that on instinct and their barking (their behavior) can be controlled by teaching 'Speak' and 'shush' and letting them know when they do 'alert' that they have done a good job.
Keep in mind she is still a puppy and is still learning about the world, and all that is in it - no different than a child. Puppies are not born with the knowledge or skills to live in our world, they live in a world of 'safe' and 'unsafe', and it takes time for them to learn though experience what is safe and what is not. For a puppy born with basic survival skills, the 'unfamiliar' is to be approached with caution, (if at all) until they can determine (decide for themselves) if it is safe or not. And for your puppy, at this time, some people feel 'unsafe' to her - hence her reaction to them.

I am puzzled by this statement- 'I want to make sure I am in control of her state of mind'.
We can have some control over their behavior by teaching them the skills we want them to have (and rewarding them for doing them) but we cannot control their emotions anymore than they can or we can control our own or someone can control ours.

May I suggest the book 'On Talking Terms with Dogs' by Turid Rugaas? It provides the basics of dog body language (how dogs 'speak' (communicate) to us and their own kind). The more we can learn about how they communicate, the better we can communicate and work with them.
Something else we should pay close attention to, the subtle signals that we can easily miss, is stress signals in dogs, so that we can respond appropriately to their needs.

 

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Thank you for your comments. It's so good to get such diversified feedback.
To clarify a couple of things that were questioned from my initial post:

@LMMB I am not using bullying tactics with my dog and I do use the same tactics on my children. Both are in training to become an adult and I need to help them understand what is acceptable behavior and what isn't. She doesn't show cowering or fear with me, as a dog being bullied might, but shows respect and attention. I openly admit that I use techniques Cesar uses along with many others I have picked up through research and observation, but I guess my opinion of those techniques are different than yours.
She is a dog to me and a pet but also a loving member of my family along with a 4 year old and an 8 year old. She is also going to be a shop dog and a companion to me. It's my responsibility to protect my children and my patrons from unwanted behavior and certainly any form of aggression. What I am seeing feels like it could turn into aggression based on fear or uncertainty and that is why I feel like I need to address it now. That is why I need to be able to control her state of mind, @CachetheBC, because behavior comes from the state of mind. If I walk into my home already angry or frustrated, in that state of mind I'm more likely to snap at a child that leaves a toy laying on the ground for me to step on. But if I am able to take a moment and calm myself before entering the home, change my state of mind, then I'm able to address my child calmly explaining in a loving way why it needs to be picked up. That is what I mean by controlling her state of mind and, you're right, using the term 'control' is probably not the right term. I need to be able to tell her that a different state of mind is wanted at that moment. If she isn't a human lover, that is just fine. Hell, I'm not a human lover. But I do need her to be tolerant of humans, much like I often am. I run a business, and while I don't like everyone who walks through the door, I also don't yell, scream, and chase off anyone who doesn't meet my social criteria.
That is what I am looking for help on, is how to handle her in those situations where she feels fear, uncertainty, irritation, whatever it is in a way that will help shape her to have a better experience, a more tolerant experience, in the future. I don't own a pet shop where barking, growling, and other animal noises are normal or expected. I own a print shop and I can't just let her bark and growl and go through the emotions freely. I need some suggestions on how to address it so I don't interfere with my business but also in a way that will help form a better behavior for those situations.
 

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It's my responsibility to protect my children and my patrons from unwanted behavior and certainly any form of aggression. What I am seeing feels like it could turn into aggression based on fear or uncertainty and that is why I feel like I need to address it now.
I'd suggest that one of the first things to do then is to give her space and not place her in situations where she is out of her comfort zone with people. For her, it must be a bit like an extreme introvert being forced to interact with a load of strangers at a party. All the introvert would want is to find a quiet corner out of the way, where they don't have to engage with the other guests. I think that's what your girl wants too.

She surely doesn't need to be friendly with every customer, can't she just have a quiet corner where she can chill, ignoring people and having them ignore her?

Regarding Cesar Milan, I understand why it looks like a lot of his techniques work. But please be aware that his tv shows are very heavily edited. I'm afraid if you could see some of the discarded footage (as several of us have) you would be shocked and appalled at some of the intimidating tactics he uses. What often looks like good behaviour and compliance is actually dogs that are ”shut down” - he uses extreme techniques to frighten dogs into submission. I'm sure there must be some things he gets right but at the risk of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, you would need to know what you were looking for to separate the good from the bad.

There are a lot of far, far better trainers out there.
 

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Thank you for your comments. It's so good to get such diversified feedback.
To clarify a couple of things that were questioned from my initial post:

@LMMB I am not using bullying tactics with my dog and I do use the same tactics on my children. Both are in training to become an adult and I need to help them understand what is acceptable behavior and what isn't. She doesn't show cowering or fear with me, as a dog being bullied might, but shows respect and attention. I openly admit that I use techniques Cesar uses along with many others I have picked up through research and observation, but I guess my opinion of those techniques are different than yours.
She is a dog to me and a pet but also a loving member of my family along with a 4 year old and an 8 year old. She is also going to be a shop dog and a companion to me. It's my responsibility to protect my children and my patrons from unwanted behavior and certainly any form of aggression. What I am seeing feels like it could turn into aggression based on fear or uncertainty and that is why I feel like I need to address it now. That is why I need to be able to control her state of mind, @CachetheBC, because behavior comes from the state of mind. If I walk into my home already angry or frustrated, in that state of mind I'm more likely to snap at a child that leaves a toy laying on the ground for me to step on. But if I am able to take a moment and calm myself before entering the home, change my state of mind, then I'm able to address my child calmly explaining in a loving way why it needs to be picked up. That is what I mean by controlling her state of mind and, you're right, using the term 'control' is probably not the right term. I need to be able to tell her that a different state of mind is wanted at that moment. If she isn't a human lover, that is just fine. Hell, I'm not a human lover. But I do need her to be tolerant of humans, much like I often am. I run a business, and while I don't like everyone who walks through the door, I also don't yell, scream, and chase off anyone who doesn't meet my social criteria.
That is what I am looking for help on, is how to handle her in those situations where she feels fear, uncertainty, irritation, whatever it is in a way that will help shape her to have a better experience, a more tolerant experience, in the future. I don't own a pet shop where barking, growling, and other animal noises are normal or expected. I own a print shop and I can't just let her bark and growl and go through the emotions freely. I need some suggestions on how to address it so I don't interfere with my business but also in a way that will help form a better behavior for those situations.
I forgot, we have had her since she was 6 weeks old. She is now about 18 weeks. Yes, I know that is too young, but that is when the owner of the litter said they needed to go. The puppies were going at 6 weeks whether we took one or not, at least this way we are ensuring this pup got a good home.
 

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I'd suggest that one of the first things to do then is to give her space and not place her in situations where she is out of her comfort zone with people. For her, it must be a bit like an extreme introvert being forced to interact with a load of strangers at a party. All the introvert would want is to find a quiet corner out of the way, where they don't have to engage with the other guests. I think that's what your girl wants too.

She surely doesn't need to be friendly with every customer, can't she just have a quiet corner where she can chill, ignoring people and having them ignore her?

Regarding Cesar Milan, I understand why it looks like a lot of his techniques work. But please be aware that his tv shows are very heavily edited. I'm afraid if you could see some of the discarded footage (as several of us have) you would be shocked and appalled at some of the intimidating tactics he uses. What often looks like good behaviour and compliance is actually dogs that are ”shut down” - he uses extreme techniques to frighten dogs into submission. I'm sure there must be some things he gets right but at the risk of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, you would need to know what you were looking for to separate the good from the bad.

There are a lot of far, far better trainers out there.
I understand what your mean about Cesar Milan. As I mentioned, I don't use all his techniques just as I don't use every technique suggested on the internet or by others, such as rubbing the dogs nose in their own poop to potty train. He was just the example that was mentioned and I wanted to make it clear that I have watched his show and found many of his suggestions helpful. I also watch bird-dog trainers, trainers for tricks, trainers for agility courses, etc. I observe and choose what I feel would work best in my unique situation and with my relationship with my dog.
Let me be clear, I have a VERY loving relationship with my dog. I have given her a better home than most dogs have and my intent on giving so much attention to her trianing is so she can have freedoms that other dogs don't get because their owners don't trust them in those situations.
Also, please understand that if she wanted to cower in a corner, I would be approaching things very differently. She is not so afriand that she just wants to cower in a corner becaue she is so overcome with fear. In every case she wants to meet the person and is anxious to do so. She just reacts with some people differently than others. I allow her the choice. I don't force her. But the way she approaches some poeple is very vocal, with her hackles up. Maybe it is an excitement issue. I'm not sure. That is what I am looking for, is how to help her understand she doens't need to approach in that manner. That people are not something to be afraid of or intimidated by. And if it is beginning stages of her feeling like she needs to protect me, my business, or some feelings of aggression, I want to address that now versus having a behavior issue that is even harder to curb in the future because I have allowed it to play out for too long.
 

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That is what I am looking for, is how to help her understand she doens't need to approach in that manner.
In that case, having a quiet corner where she can chill, maybe contained in a pen or similar, would still be my suggestion.

When she is in there she will observe that people come and go and she won't be interacting with them; and that will be what she learns is normal behaviour.
 
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